Free Speech Wall Draws Conflict, Comments

By the late afternoon, the Free Speech Wall board at UW-Milwaukee was a colorful mess of jokes, political statements, and everything in between ranging from “Free Venezuela!!! Muerte ala oppression!!!” and “Take back our government. Return to by the people for the people” to “Republicans suck, Democrats (expletive)” and “Give me all the bacon and eggs you have.”

The Young Americans for Liberty created the Free Speech Wall event on UW-Milwaukee’s campus to offer students a rare chance to openly speak their minds as they say the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

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Event organizer Thomas Kelly (r) stands next to the Free Speech Wall. Photo by Brett Kihlmire.

Starting in late morning, the event came off to a slow start with just Chapter President Thomas Kelly handing out markers and inviting students and faculty to sign the board and exercise their freedom of speech.

Despite a solid effort at drumming up signatures, Kelly was failing to draw a large crowd due in part to low foot traffic and the fact that many passing students were wearing headphones or engaged with their cellphones.

Regardless, Kelly kept at his mission for the day, offering a marker to whomever looked up or asked for more information.  By the noon hour, the board was a quarter full, and the union was beginning to fill with hungry students and faculty leading to an influx of possible signatures that one man couldn’t reel in alone.

Fortunately for Kelly, more members from the Young Americans for Liberty arrived to help advertise the board. Among these volunteers was Creative Director Faith Jones, who took a moment to explain the Young Americans for Liberty politics and the purpose of the day’s event.

“Today Young Americans for Liberty of University Wisconsin-Milwaukee is putting on a free speech wall so that students can utilize their First Amendment right. The overall goal is to just show students that they have the ability to speak their mind freely and the government is not going to get in their way. We want to highlight that the University is not in charge of our opinion that we are free to choose what we want.”

While organized as an event celebrating the guaranteed freedoms of all Americans, the Free Speech Wall event was the sight of some minor conflict when a pair of leftist petitioners seeking election into local office became offended by an outspoken YAL member’s declaration of Libertarian ideals.

As a result, the petitioners and small group of likeminded students attempted a boycott of the wall by forming a line in front of the wall and declaring their right to assemble.

A few members of YAL made a peaceful attempt at ending the boycott. As a result of sarcastic language and conflicting political beliefs, a fierce political debate filled with accusations of ignorance and bigotry erupted in a short but heated conflict of interests.

Ultimately, the issue was resolved without the incident growing out of control. Fortunately for YAL, the incident drew in a sizeable crowd of onlookers, many of which were tempted into signing the wall to voice their opinions on one matter or another.

In the closing hour of the event, YAL Vice President Tyler Ovard spoke optimistically on the outcome of the day’s event.

“It’s going pretty good, the board’s getting pretty full. We did it one time before and we didn’t get that many people, but more successful this time. We’re finally starting to hit our stride.”

Even without out the temptation of free cookies to draw in signers as with the previous Free Speech Wall event, the Young Americans for Liberty said they found success in the day. Tom Kelly noted that the board was bigger than the previous semester meaning even more students signed the board this time around assuring the day’s mission accomplished.